Skills you need to become a Film Editor

Written by Lilian Schiffler
Video Creative at Netflix

London, UK, (15 July 2021)

The rise of video over the past few years has brought an expected increase in demand for video editors. However, film editing has predominantly become digital, a reflection of the digital age where everything you want and need is accessed via a screen.

This means aspiring editors need to know the ins and outs of (at times) complex video editing systems, as well as being highly tech-savvy. Advances in film technology have also allowed for opportunities within the industry to open up.

YouTube, high-quality smart-phone cameras, and other digital platforms and film-editing software have meant aspiring film editors no longer need to go to film school to learn to edit video like a pro, but can gain these skills from the comfort of their home, with detailed tutorials on how to use different editing software in abundance online (Toma, 2021).

What is a Film Editor?

So what exactly is a film editor? And how do you become one? A film editor takes the footage a director has shot each day (whether this is for motion pictures or television programmes) and puts this footage together to create the narrative of a story, producing a fluid final product. This is different to the general understanding that the process simply involves cutting errors from footage (Toma, 2021).

Executive director of American Cinema Editors Jenni McCormick defines that the best editing shouldn’t be noticeable. ‘It’s meant to be an invisible art’ she quotes, relaying that video editing should be like a ‘puzzle’, with video content put together based on what footage you have (Toma, 2021).

The workflow of an editor will differ depending on whether the video content is for TV, documentary, or feature films. However, the job predominantly involves working in front of a computer for very long hours using high-tech editing software. The process also commonly involves watching and logging the footage, as well as organising the footage by different scenes and shots, and shaping the resulting story alongside the director’s creative input (Masterclass, 2020).

I have outlined some of the key skills aspiring film editors need in order to consider a role within film editing:

1. Being able to work long hours by yourself.

This first point is key. Being a film editor means you must be able to work long hours independently at your screen, and therefore having the patience to do so is also extremely important (Toma, 2021). 

2. Be collaborative and supportive.

Despite often working alone, the ability for film editors to be able to still work with others is crucial, as editors will often need to be able to collaborate effectively with team members on their work, as well as work alongside directors to create the final video and bring together their creative vision. The ability to network is also vital, as this allows for building connections with other editors and assistants (Masterclass, 2020).

3. Big picture thinking.

A film editor must have a keen creative eye, where they can see the ‘bigger picture’ in terms of piecing together their creative content. This means they must not only place shots in the correct order, but analyse the whole of their footage to decide how best to achieve the desired emotional impact of the film, to make decisions on both a very small, and wide-scale level (Masterclass, 2020).

4. Able to identify problems and solutions.

Editors must have the eye and ability to problem solve throughout their role, and be able to identify problems and offer necessary solutions. For example, sometimes an actor’s performance could be weak and the editor must be able to cut around this effectively. Or that the main storyline isn’t consistent through the film, therefore the editor’s job is to pitch effective creative solutions to this, and for any other further issues (Masterclass, 2020).

5. Have a keen eye for detail.

Video editors need to look at hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours of footage (depending on what is being made – a documentary, trailer, film, etc). This means editors need to have a sharp eye for detail in order to decrease the length of all this footage, and pinpoint the key elements of their footage they want to keep, and want to get rid of – right down to making decisions down to the frame, as well as how to cut between shots (Masterclass, 2020).

I hope this gives a detailed exploration into exactly what it takes to become a film editor.

With the opportunities within the film editing world growingly increasingly vast, it is a highly attractive, exciting, and incredibly rewarding career path to take, if chosen. The final product can really make all those painstaking hours worth it.

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